Press Release

November 2, 2017
Cardin, Van Hollen, Norton, Harris Announce President Trump Signs Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act into Law

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.) announced that President Trump today signed their Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act (H.R. 2989) into law.  The bill establishes a commission to plan, develop and carry out programs and activities to honor and celebrate the life of Frederick Douglass, the country’s greatest slavery abolitionist, during the bicentennial anniversary of his birth, in 2018.  In addition, the commission must make recommendations to Congress by August 1, 2018, on programs and activities that the federal government should carry out to honor Douglass.  The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission will be only the 16th commemorative commission created by Congress since 1989, and only six of those commemorated specific individuals, none of them African American.  The other individuals were: Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.

“Frederick Douglass, who was born in 1818 in the State of Maryland, escaped from slavery and became a leading writer, orator, publisher, and one of the United States’ most influential advocates for abolitionism and the equality of all people,” said Senator Cardin.  “Honoring Douglass on his bicentennial allows the nation to look back at the incredible life and work of this great man.  It also gives us a unique lens to view our world and nation today and the continuing fight for civil rights and equality.”

“Now more than ever, it’s important that we remember the work and passion of Frederick Douglass,” said Senator Van Hollen.  “He fought tirelessly to improve our great nation and create a more perfect union.  His impact on Maryland can be seen across our state and still has lasting impacts on our communities.  This commission will explore how we can learn from his legacy and continue to apply these lessons today.  As Douglass once stated, ‘The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.’  We should never stop fighting to move our country forward.”

“Frederick Douglass was one of the most transformative figures in our nation’s history,” said Congresswoman Norton.  “It is only fitting that the federal government and the nation celebrate and honor his life on the 200th anniversary of his birth.  Commemorative commissions for individuals are understandably rare, but there is perhaps none more deserving than Douglass.  We in the District of Columbia are particularly proud he called D.C. home for most of his adult life.  His home here in Southeast is an official national historic site and one of our city’s treasures, visited by thousands of tourists and residents annually.  I am grateful that the House and Senate passed the bill with unanimous bipartisan support and that the President signed it in time for the commission to do its important work.”

“I commend my colleagues in Congress for their bipartisan and bicameral efforts to pass this legislation, and I am grateful to President Trump for his attention to this important matter. As we approach the bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’ birth, it is critical that Douglass’ contributions to our nation are recognized and celebrated. Frederick Douglass was the father of the abolitionist movement and left a lasting imprint on American culture,” said Congressman Harris.  “Now that the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act is law and the commission can be formed to develop its recommendations.  I am eager to hear the commission’s recommendations, and participate in the activities honoring this American hero and Eastern Shore native.”

Members of the commission must be appointed within 60 days (January 1, 2018).  The commission will have 16 members.  The members will be appointed as follows:

  • Two members appointed by the President.
  • Four members appointed by the President on the recommendation of each of the Mayor of the District of Columbia and the Governors of Maryland, Massachusetts and New York.
  • Three members, at least one of whom must be a Member of the House, appointed by the Speaker of the House.
  • Three members, at least one of whom must be a Senator, appointed by the Senate Majority Leader.
  • Two members, at least one of whom must be a Member of the House, appointed by the House Minority Leader.
  • Two members, at least one of whom must be a Senator, appointed by the Senate Minority Leader.